The decision-theoretic concept of preference is linked to the concepts
of subjective probability and utility by the expected utility
(EUP) A rational agent prefers X to Y iff the expected
utility of X exceeds the expected utility of Y.
Economists usually take preference to be the more basic concept and
interpret the EUP as an implicit definition of the agent's utilities
(and sometimes also her probabilities).
According to a popular picture, some beliefs are justified by "seemings": under
certain conditions, if it seems to you that P, then you are justified
to believe that P, without the assistance of other beliefs. So
seemings provide a kind of foundation for belief, albeit a fallible
kind of foundation.
Friends of primitive powers and dispositions often contrast their
view with an alternative view, usually attributed to Lewis, on which
modal facts about powers, dispositions, laws, counterfactuals etc. are
grounded in facts about other possible worlds. But Lewis never held
that alternative view – nor did anyone else, as far as I
know. The allegedly mainstream alternative is entirely made of
straw. The real alternative that should be addressed is the
reductionist view that powers and dispositions are reducible to
ultimately non-modal elements of the actual world.
In his "Dicing
with Death" (2014), Arif Ahmed presents the following scenario as
a counterexample to causal decision theory (CDT):
Bob's favourite piano piece is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Alice
would like to play Bob's favourite piece, and she can play the
Moonlight Sonata, but she doesn't know that it is Bob favourite piece,
nor can she find out that it is. Can Alice play Bob's favourite
In decision theory, the available options are often glossed informally
as the acts the agent can perform, or the propositions she can make
true. But this yields implausible results in cases where an agent has
doubts about what she can do.
It is tempting to think that there is nothing more to physical
quantities than their nomic role: that to have a certain mass just is
to behave in such-and-such a way under such-and-such conditions.
In chapter 8 of Doing Good Better, William MacAskill argues
that we should not make a great effort to reduce our carbon emissions,
to buy Fairtrade coffee, or to boycott sweatshops. The reason is that
these actions have at best a small impact on improving other people's
lives and so the cost and effort is better spent elsewhere.
You observe a process that generates two kinds of outcomes, 'heads'
and 'tails'. The outcomes appear in seemingly random order, with
roughly the same amount of heads as tails. These observations support
a probabilistic model of the process, according to which the
probability of heads and of tails on each trial is 1/2, independently
of the other outcomes.
In my recent post on Interventionist Decision Theory, I suggested that causal interventionists
should follow Stern and move from a Jeffrey-type definition
of expected utility to a Savage-Lewis-Skyrms type definition. In that case, I also suggested that they could avoid various problems arising from the concept of an intervention by construing the agent's
actions as ordinary events. In conversation,
Reuben Stern convinced me that things are not so easy.